On the occasion of the introduction of the Oracle Virtual Machine (OVM) at Oracle World a couple of weeks ago, here are a few thoughts about virtual machines in general. As usual when talking about virtualization (see the OVF review), I come to this mainly from a systems management perspective.
Many of the commonly listed benefits of VMWare-style (I guess I can also now say OVM-style) virtualization make perfect sense. It obviously makes it easier to test on different platforms/configurations and it is a convenient (modulo disk space availability) way to distribute ready-to-use prototypes and demos. And those were, not surprisingly, the places where the technology was first used when it appeared on X86 platforms many years ago (I’ll note that the Orale VM won’t be very useful for the second application because it only runs on bare metal while in the demo scenario you usually want to be able to run it on the host OS that normally runs you laptop). And then there is the server consolidation argument (and associated hardware/power/cooling/space savings) which is where virtualization enters the data center, where it becomes relevant to Oracle, and where its relationship with IT management becomes clear. But the value goes beyond the direct benefits of server consolidation. It also lies in the additional flexibility in the management of the infrastructure and the potential for increased automation of management tasks.
Sentences that contains both the words “challenge” and “opportunity” are usually so corny they make me cringe, but I’ll have to give in this one time: virtualization is both a challenge and an opportunity for IT management. Most of today’s users of virtualization in data centers probably feel that the technology has made IT management harder for them. It introduces many new considerations, at the same time technical (e.g. performance of virtual machines on the same host are not independent), compliance-related (e.g. virtualization can create de-facto super-users) and financial (e.g. application licensing). And many management tools have not yet incorporated these new requirements, or at least not in a way that is fully integrated with the rest of the management infrastructure. But in the longer run the increased uniformity and flexibility provided by a virtualized infrastructure raise the ability to automate and optimize management tasks. We will get from a situation where virtualization is justified by statements such as “the savings from consolidation justify the increased management complexity” to a situation where the justification is “we’re doing this for the increased flexibility (through more automated management that virtualization enables), and server consolidation is icing on the cake”.
As a side note, having so many pieces of the stack (one more now with OVM) at Oracle is very interesting from a technical/architectural point of view. Not that Oracle would want to restrict itself to managing scenarios that utilize its VM, its OS, its App Server, its DB, etc. But having the whole stack in-house provides plenty of opportunity for integration and innovation in the management space. These capabilities also need to be delivered in heterogeneous environments but are a lot easier to develop and mature when you can openly collaborate with engineers in all these domains. Having done this through standards and partnerships in the past, I am pleased to be in a position to have these discussions inside the same company for a change.